Did Trump Threaten to Pull U.S. out of NATO? President Touts $33 Billion in Extra Funding from Allies

President Donald Trump claimed he had secured additional military spending commitments from NATO allies, touting $33 billion in extra funding.

The president held an unscheduled press conference Thursday, telling reporters he had secured spending commitments more significant that NATO had ever seen before. Trump gave no details of the agreement or the associated timeline, but said NATO is now “much stronger than it was two days ago.”

On Wednesday, the president reportedly demanded that NATO double its military spending target to 4 percent of GDP. There were conflicting reports Thursday that Trump had threatened to do his own thing” unless his spending desires were met, raising suggestions he might withdraw the U.S. from the transatlantic alliance. 

RTX6AX5G U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to hold a news conference after participating in the NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Reinhard Krause

When asked if this was true, Trump did not directly deny it. “I told people that I would be very unhappy if they didn't up their commitment very substantially,” he said, adding that his “commitment to NATO is very strong.” A journalist asked whether Trump thought he could withdraw the U.S. from NATO without congressional approval, to which the president said, “I think I probably can, but that’s unnecessary.”

French President Emmanuel Macron, however, immediately denied that any agreement had been reached to increase expenditures beyond previously agreed targets. “It confirms the goal of 2 percent by 2024. That’s all,” Macron said.

NATO states have already committed to meeting the 2 percent target over the next decade. Before the summit began, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said seven nations—plus the U.S.—are already delivering on the commitment, up from three in 2014.

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Later on in the press conference, Trump seemed to contradict himself. Although the president said he thinks 4 percent “is the right number,” Trump said discussions on revising the target upward would take place only “after we get to 2 percent.” Eventually, he suggested, “we will go much higher than 2 percent,” providing no evidence for his assertion. The president said the 2 percent threshold would be met “in a relatively short number of years.”

In his closing press conference, Stoltenberg told reporters that NATO nations had committed an extra $41 billion in spending since Trump took office in January 2017. When pressed about the specifics of the agreement reported by Trump, the secretary general simply said the allies had agreed to “redouble our efforts” with “a new sense of urgency.”

From the campaign trail to the Oval Office, Trump has consistently complained that the U.S. pays too much toward the defense of Europe, branding the NATO system “unfair.” The president came to Brussels with a clear goal in mind: to get fellow alliance members to spend more. Whether he delivered on this or is taking credit for previous agreements is not yet clear.

RTX6AWZS President Donald Trump during a news conference after participating in the NATO Summit in Brussels, Belgium, July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Reinhard Krause

Trump clearly believes he has scored a big win. “Stoltenberg gave us total credit, meaning me I guess,” he told reporters. As for the reaction of other leaders, Trump said, “Everybody in the room thanked me.”

The press conference concluded a testy two days in Brussels. The president began his visit with a blistering attack on Germany at a breakfast meeting with Stoltenberg Wednesday, claiming NATO’s largest European country is “totally controlled by Russia.”

The expansion of the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline—an $11 billion project undertaken by state-backed Russian gas giant Gazprom and five European countries—was the focus of Trump’s attack. “Ultimately, Germany will have almost 70 percent of their country controlled by Russia with natural gas,” he said, arguing the project “should have never been allowed to have happened.” It is worth noting that Trump has recently been pushing European leaders to buy more American natural gas, so his comments did not seem to stem purely from a concern over German sovereignty.

RTS1W840 Latvian National Guard unit takes part in the urban fighting drill during the NATO Saber Strike exercise in the Soviet-time former military town near Skrunda, Latvia June 13, 2018. Trump wants other NATO states to pay more towards the alliance. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

The president did sign the joint NATO declaration that denounced Russia’s “aggressive actions.” The statement said the Kremlin’s actions had “reduced stability and security, increased unpredictability, and changed the security environment.”

The declaration repeated the alliance’s condemnation of Russia’s “illegal and illegitimate annexation of Crimea and ongoing destabilization of eastern Ukraine,” as well as “provocative” military operations and exercises along NATO member borders and airspace. Leaders also criticized Russia’s “hybrid actions” including attempted interference in numerous elections, “widespread disinformation campaigns, and malicious cyber activities.”

Trump arrived late for the first meeting of the day, a session intended to voice support for Ukraine and Georgia, both of which are battling Russian-backed separatists.

This article has been updated to include comments from NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

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